Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who's BCCI's official spokesman?

The BCCI has been caught on a sticky wicket as the Shiv Sena versus Sachin Tendulkar ‘war’ rages on needlessly.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, seemingly a cohesive unit, looks to be a house divided on the Shiv Sena-Sachin Tendulkar issue. A BCCI e-mail sent to media organisations around 7 PM on Sunday probably indicates BCCI’s bigwigs are not always on the same page.

In a terse email, the BCCI said: “Mr Shashank Manohar, the President of the BCCI, has clarified that Mr Rajeev Shukla has reacted to the comments made by the Shiv Sena on Sachin Tendulkar, in his individual capacity, and not on behalf of the BCCI.”

In spite of being the BCCI boss, Manohar is probably the most inconspicuous personality in the current set of high-profile BCCI officials. He is the least seen ‘face’ of one of the world’s richest sports bodies. Thus, his unexpected e-mail indicates a serious “identity” crisis within the Board, or was it a “being politically correct” tactic?

As part of the media, we have almost always ‘ran’ to Rajeev Shukla for “quotes” on anything that vaguely associates with cricket. Shukla is normally media-savvy and hence is taken as the “voice” of the BCCI. On Sunday, when scribes were seeking reactions on Shiva Sena’s latest attack on Tendulkar, Shukla was obvioiusly the media’s first “target.”

True to his style, Shukla obliged. As the BCCI’s finance committee chairman, does Shukla have the authority to speak on issues apart from may be, finance? But in a scenario where the BCCI doesn’t have well-defined norms of venting its thoughts, the ever-hungry media has always seen Shukla as one of BCCI’s best “spokespersons” who gives “newsy” sound bytes.

Exactly a week ago, when the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray criticized Tendulkar’s “Mumbai for all” comment, Shukla gave the “official” BCCI reaction saying: "It is completely uncalled for. They (Shiv Sena) have no business to talk like this. Tell me what crime Sachin has done? What is wrong in saying that 'I am an Indian and Mumbai belongs to all'... No Marathi will support Shiv Sena if they talk like this."

That day, there was no email from Manohar’s office. Given Sena’s (big) catlike instincts, is the Nagpur-based Manohar just playing safe from a political standpoint? Seems so.

Sunday’s reactions from Shukla, picked up by all and sundry, were on similar (anti-Shiv Sena) lines. Hence the BCCI mail rejecting Shukla’s reactions as “unofficial” is confounding.

The BCCI, unlike the cricket Boards of Australia, England or the ICC, lacks a professional unit that can handle the media. Any senior official is a “spokesperson” and there is just no control of who says what. Sunday’s email from the BCCI clearly exposes that.

In this vicious race for BREAKING NEWS and EXCLUSIVES, the media will obviously target “anyone who speaks”. It is not the reporter’s fault because it is his job to “hunt’ for stories and reactions. But organisations like the BCCI should know how to handle the media. A media cell’s job is much more than just spelling out “media accreditation” process, handing out team lists and team news.

Even in the days of Jagmohan Dalmiya and or AC Muthiah, both BCCI presidents not so long ago, there would never be “multiple” spokespersons. Shukla has been in the BCCI for long. He will know that. Today, it is a free-for-all and hence the serious identity crisis.

Tailpiece: Shiv Sena’s ploy to play-off Tendulkar with Gavaskar is interesting. Recently, the two Little Masters shared a stage with the Big B and Gundappa Viswanath. Since sports has mixed with politics, will Mr Gavaskar take the “war of words” to the Sena camp? We shall see!

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